Akeela House celebrates 40 years of successful sobriety treatments

Akeela's celebration cake for their 40th anniversary. Hillman/KSKA
Akeela’s celebration cake for their 40th anniversary. Hillman/KSKA

The Akeela House in Anchorage turned 40 this year. It’s one of Anchorage’s oldest substance use treatment facilities. Now it has programs in communities and prisons across the state.

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Ron Greene graduated from the Akeela House residential treatment facility in the late 80s. He says the program used to rely on extreme measures to breakdown people’s defenses.

“It was crazy in those days. Sleep deprivation that kept us up for days on days end. We did just some crazy things that I know they’re not allowed to do nowadays. It would probably be considered client abuse. But in those days they did them.”

Greene says it worked. He’s been sober for 27 years now. He was also helped by the continued support of the program — he could only move out if he had another sober person to live with him. Other graduates say Akeela taught them basic living skills, like cleaning and answering the phone.

Akeela CEO Rosalie Nadeau says their methods have changed dramatically since the early days, but they still use the ideas of a therapeutic community.

“We do it more in group, where they get confronted on their behavior. ‘What do you mean you’re good? I saw you doing this. And you talk all kinds of crap. And we can’t have that.’ So we do that kind of thing now, but it’s less confrontive, and it’s less personally demeaning.”

Nadeau says they adapt their methods for different groups. Confrontation isn’t as effective for people with other mental health disorders or for women with children living with them.

Julia Luey graduated from Akeela House in 2008 when she was 21 and now manages one of Akeela’s other programs. She says going through the recovery program was brutal but forced her to grow up. She says her most significant relationships were with the other clients who helped run the house. They taught her an important message:

“That’s there’s hope. That there’s a different way to live. And you don’t think there is when you’re addicted. And that that’s going to be your life for the rest of your life. And it’s a lot of hard work, but if you’re honest and motivated to change, then it’s there. It’s everywhere.”

Akeela House started as one facility in 1974. Nadeau says no one remembers exactly how the program got it’s name. Eight years ago they began expanding, and have now grown from 11 employees to 180 and run programs from Ketchikan to Nome.